This article was originally published on our flagship football analysis site, totalfootballanalysis.com.
The January transfer window has barely cracked open and some extremely interesting buys have already happened. One of those was to Catalunya, specifically. Barcelona have acquired the services of a young French defender Jean-Clair Todibo, who comes without a transfer fee from Ligue 1’s Toulouse FC.
Todibo will officially don the Blaugrana jersey in summer when his transfer goes through For now, though, he will remain in France until 1 July. Although he was not really what the fans have maybe expected to see as reinforcement for the back line, Todibo has the potential to be a future star.
This tactical analysis will use statistics to conclude whether Barcelona have made a good decision by incorporating their third French defender and the 22ndFrench player in total and whether the hype around the youngster is as real as they say.
Jean-Clair Todibo is a 19-year-old centre-back from Toulouse who was born in Cayenne, the capital of French Guayana in South America. He played his youth football in FC Les Lilas before joining the Ligue 1 team in 2016. His official first-team debut arrived at the start of the ongoing campaign and he has, so far, made 10 appearances for the club, all of which were from the starting XI.
Some of his key strengths include, but are not limited to, physicality, pace, good ball control and passing ability. He is tall and great at aerial duels, and generally a rock in defence. As a rule of thumb, he will most often be found at right centre-back (86% of the time). He has also been known to be able to play higher up the pitch, as a defensive midfielder (9%).
In general, he is a young prospect who has all the traits a modern defender has to possess to be able to play with the best. On paper, he looks like the future, but nowadays that is no guarantee at all.
Style of play
Todibo prides himself on being the most important piece of the Toulouse’s defense puzzle, even though he is only 19 years old. Even as a youngster, he is already mature enough to impose himself and be able to tackle without risking fouls or getting booked. As a result, he averages 0.28 yellow and 0.09 red cards per 90 minutes.
Although this is slightly higher than Gerard Pique’s or Clement Lenglet’s stats, for example, the inexperience might be playing a part in that. Still, being able to successfully prevent the opposition’s progression and win 1v1 duels is what he truly excels at.
Looking at Ligue 1 as a whole, Todibo has the third-most clearances per game with 6.2. He is also already the best interceptor at Toulouse with a great 1.4 per 90 minutes played. This is partly due to his natural skill but also to his incredible pace, especially considering how tall he is.
Notice how Todibo not only manages to catch up to the attacker but he also intercepts the ball, wins the duel and retains possession without fouling the forward. His team can proceed to attack and continue the build-up straight after the tackle is performed.
Winning duels is something this youngster is used to and is good at. By using his physique and strength, Todibo regularly out-muscles the opposition in order to get to the ball. Getting to them at high pace is the first part. The other part is trickier, as he has to somehow take the ball without committing a mistake.
On average, he makes 2.1 tackles per game – winning a staggering 85.6% of them – and also wins 5.5 duels. Surprisingly enough, regardless of his height, the number of aerial duels won is slightly lower at 2.3, but is still impressive considering that on average he wins 56.8% of them.
Awareness and positioning
Being a good defender is mostly about being good at tackling and taking the ball away from the attacker. What makes a great defender, though, is the player’s ability to anticipate the opposition’s moves and be aware of his surroundings.
Todibo has so far shown that his positioning is on point, as he usually gets into favorable positions simply by reading the game well and then utilising his arsenal to the fullest. Yes, being really fast helps when you are caught off guard and need to catch up quickly. The best thing is when you can avoid that altogether.
In the example above, Toulouse’s defence is caught sleeping as the opposition’s forward dashes through them with a darting run. Luckily, Todibo was aware of the free space behind them and was already on the move once the ball started making progress. His awareness results in a clean takeaway and beautiful interception after a successful sliding tackle.
When it comes to sliding tackles, they are not really his favourite way of winning possession. He does not, however, shy away from one when necessary. So far this season, in the 10 games he’s played, he averages only 0.19. It is still pretty early to tell if this trend is going to continue onwards.
Here, Todibo once again reads the game well, peeling away from the attacker he was marking to cover the free space instead. As a result, the ball that was supposed to go behind the line ends up at his feet and he can calmly clear it without being pressurised by the opposition.
In direct 1v1 situations he clearly is not an easy man to beat, and the numbers back that up. Per 90 minutes, he only gets dribbled past 0.2 times and only makes two errors that eventually result in a shot on goal.
With Barcelona’s attempt to completely rejuvenate the squad, it is only natural that more positions need to be covered and maintained. Largely because of that reason, players who are able to deputize in various positions are extremely highly rated.
Todibo is, luckily for the Catalans, exactly what they were asking for. His defensive skill set means that he is a natural centre-back. Being good on the ball and having great game awareness, however, are what make him a compatible pick for the middle of the park.
Toulouse have recognised that already as he has spent roughly 9% of his 10 games played in midfield, often being tasked to get the ball from the back and help progress it forward. In that one game in the defensive midfielder position, he proved to be a good emergency pick.
Todibo finished a total of 70 actions out of 90 with a 78% success rate, and managed an extremely high 90% passing accuracy orchestrating the build up. On top of that, he was so often the one to break the opposition’s attack, totaling eight interceptions. He also only had five losses of the ball, showing what a reliable option he is to pass to.
Unfortunately, since the sample of the games he’s spent in that position is so low, the possibility of a more in-depth analysis of his pivot role is currently on hold.
The Barca way
Obviously, being at such a young age and also playing in a different league altogether, there is always a question whether he can make it in Catalunya or not. So far, there are certainly some big positives that would suggest that he is, ready but only time can tell for certain.
Still, one of the key traits that a Barcelona defender has to possess is certainly in his favour. As the Catalans love to build from the back, Todibo will often be tasked to receive and pass the ball much more often than he did in France.
Even as a midfielder, he totaled only 65 passes which is low for the Catalan’s standards. On average he receives 27.94 passes while Pique has double those numbers. It will definitely take some time for him to get used to such a bigger role in the build-up. If we judge him by his Toulouse experience though, he is definitely capable of that.
He averages 89.1% passing accuracy and is no stranger to an occasional long ball with 2.8 on average (50% accuracy). What is even more encouraging is the number of passes into the final third and into the box respectively. His 4.49 balls into the final third with 62.4% accuracy is good for such a young centre-back. Admittedly only 0.37 passes into the box (51.4% accuracy) leave some room for improvement.
Here, Todibo receives the ball in the back line but proceeds to carry it forward seeing how there is a lot of free space in front of him to exploit. This is definitely a must-have if he wants to make it at Barcelona, as they always play with a high defensive line.
Toulouse do not prefer that style of play at all times. Being good on the ball and having good vision and skill to execute passes successfully and quickly mean that Todibo can certainly get used to it.
After carrying the ball long enough to start posing a threat to the opposition, the Frenchman proceeds to send a great through-ball enabling his teammate on the wings, as can be seen below.
Usually, when analysing such young prospects such as this French defensive gem, it’s easy to spot some rookie mistakes. Still, surprisingly enough, Todibo doesn’t seem to make many of those. The most glaring one would, in fact, be his temperament.
Off the pitch he is not as hot-headed or as immature as players can be in his age. He does, however, have some troubles containing the emotions on it. That is not to say that being passionate is a weakness, but it can affect his bookings.
We did mention that he possesses the skill to successfully take the ball away without causing fouls, but since he already has three yellows and a red card under his belt in just 10 games, one has to wonder whether he is going to slow down or not. Moving away from Ligue 1 and stepping into a more technical but less physical La Liga might prove to be a problem if he continues being that aggressive on the ball.
Another thing would definitely be inexperience. Of course, that is not his own fault as he still has his whole career in front of him. What Barcelona usually require is quick and successful adaptation, otherwise his game time will be drastically reduced.
This inexperience will, unfortunately, affect his ability to slot into the system immediately as he is mostly unfamiliar with the way Barcelona’s defenders like and have to play.
Getting a young prospect with such a high potential ceiling for free is practically unheard of in this day and age. Youngsters who have what it takes to become world beaters usually come with a price that matches their talent.
If Todibo can adapt to his new surroundings as quickly as they want him to, and if he successfully continues down the path he is heading down at the moment, the future definitely looks bright for him.
On paper, he is exactly what the Catalans need in a defender. He is fast, intelligent, good on the ball, strong in duels and even at moving the ball forward when needed. Another rare luxury is his versatility and ability to slot into multiple different positions.
For now, even if he arrives in January, his game time might not be as high as he would want it to be. Jeison Murillo is probably ahead of him in the pecking order as well. Arriving early however means more time to get to know the players, the coach, and the system. Just training with the team will help him adapt faster.
To conclude, Jean-Clair Todibo might not be Matthijs de Ligt, but he has all the necessary foundations to succeed at this club and become a superstar of the future. How well can he adjust to life in Spain and La Liga largely depends on him but also on the club itself.
The fans are right to be excited about this signing but should also not expect to get a finished product. This 19-year-old gem is still mostly unpolished, but definitely one to watch out for.
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